Published 5:43 PM EDT May 28, 2019
Flooding in at least 8 states along portions of the Mississippi River – due to relentless, record-breaking spring rainfall – is the longest-lasting since the “Great Flood” of 1927, the National Weather Service said.
The 1927 flood, which Weatherwise magazine called “perhaps the most underrated weather disaster of the century,” remains the benchmark flood event for the nation’s biggest river.
Anytime a modern flood can be mentioned in the same breath as the Great Flood is newsworthy: During that historic flood, hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes as millions of acres of land and towns went underwater.
At one point in 1927, along the Tennessee border, the Mississippi rose an astonishing 56.5 feet above flood stage, and in Arkansas, the river ballooned to 80 miles wide, according to the book Extreme Weather by Christopher Burt.
Hundreds of people died in the flooding.
That flood “was the seminal event that led to the federal flood-control program and gave the Army Corps of Engineers the job of controlling the nation’s rivers via the erection of dams, dikes and other measures of flood abatement,” Burt wrote.
At the height of the disaster, some 750,000 refugees were under the care of the Red Cross.
While the scale of this year’s flood may not match the 1927 catastrophe, in terms of longevity, this year’s flood rivals that one: For example, In Vicksburg, Mississippi, the river went above flood stage on Feb. 17, and has remained in flood ever since. The weather service said this is the longest continuous stretch above flood stage since 1927.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi first rose above flood stage in early January, and has been above that level ever since, the National Weather Service said. If this record-long stretch extends well into June, it would break the record from 1927, according to the Weather Channel.
And farther north, the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois saw its longest stretch above major flood stage ever recorded, even surpassing that of 1927.
A large portion of the downtown of Davenport, Iowa, was also swamped by the flooding. Davenport’s public works department has spent more than $1 million on fighting floods this spring and that figure is expected to rise as the city prepares to hold back future deluges, officials said.
All of this year’s flooding is due to both early spring snowmelt and seemingly endless rain: Since the start of 2019, much of the lower Ohio and lower Mississippi River Valleys have picked up more than 2 feet of rain. A few spots have even received over 40 inches of rain, the Weather Channel said.
As the planet warms due to human-caused climate change, heavy downpours are increasing in the Midwest, according to the National Climate Assessment. From the early 1990s to the mid-2010s, very heavy precipitation events in the Midwest increased by 37%, the assessment said.
In 2018, the assessment said that “an increase in localized extreme precipitation and storm events can lead to an increase in flooding. River flooding in large rivers like the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries can flood surface streets and low-lying areas, resulting in drinking water contamination, evacuations, damage to buildings, injury, and death.”
As of Tuesday, more than 370 river gauges were reporting levels above flood stage in the central U.S., the weather service said. And of those, 71 gauges reported major flooding, 105 moderate flooding and 206 minor flooding, the weather service reported.
Although fatalities have been reported due to flash floods elsewhere in the central U.S. this spring, no deaths have been reported in the river flooding along the Mississippi.
Contributing: The Associated Press